A Whale of an Opportunity

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If Twitter wants to make money, it needs to do to others what they’ve been trying to do to Twitter. That is, extend its lead in market share by solving the problem of cross-platform micromessaging. With activity streams from Facebook, Microsoft, MySpace, FriendFeed, and a score of smaller players flowing over RSS, XMPP, and HTTP Push, Twitter can consolidate its power by cloning the best of its competitors’ offerings.

Key to this jujitsu is the understanding of what constitutes a micromessage. Though Twitter’s competitors for the most part frame the issue as one of interoperability, in fact Twitter is in the unique position to define the platform on its own terms. If Twitter provides tools that allow users to integrate their messages, social graph, and discovery mechanisms with all other systems, Twitter in effect becomes the Post Office of the new messaging paradigm.

FriendFeed has done an exceptional job in the last few months modeling this strategy, and soon will reach a tipping point where it will be worth assembling a near replica of the high value parts of a Twitter Follow and discovery cloud. Already you can use the Imaginary Friends functionality to aggregate “friends” from multiple services, and create a Friends List and associated realtime feed to simulate much of the Twitter UI. But Twitter’s embargo of realtime Track data keeps other services from exploiting the Twitter user base as an organic messaging cloud akin to Google’s search cloud.

However, if you turn this defensive strategy around and make Twitter the hub for not just the cloud it controls but all such messages, the resultant business value begins to mirror that of Google’s opportunity. Where Adsense exploits Google’s search portal as leverage across the Web, Twitter can syndicate its dominant realtime results across its competitors’ services. TrackRank becomes a much more efficient value proposition, harnessing as it does not only behavior but social swarming characteristics.

For Twitter to atomize its service into an open architecture is a leap the company’s executives and investors may not have the stomach to attempt, but they don’t have to look far for an example to guide them. Microsoft, with far more baggage as well as corporate culture working against opening its architecture, has made just such specific commitments with Mesh and the Live Platform with Mac and Linux clients, a sync protocol built on top of open standards, and Azure’s pervasive support for REST.

As much as the media wants to look at Twitter et al as a consumer service likely monetized via advertising, the value to companies internally as a vehicle for managing one-to-many collaboration relationships may prove far more important. Executives can manage by starting fires and watching to see who puts them out. Managers can convert internal messages first for business partner and eventually public consumption.

By defining the interchange points for micromessaging intercommunications, Twitter can use its market muscle to stay ahead of attempts to clone it from below or above, and at the same time stay ahead of attempts to pick off enterprise applications of its model. And most disruptively of all, Twitter can turn its competitors into user acquisition and business process development partners. But wait too long and the moment will pass. Can Twitter afford to miss a fail-whale of an opportunity?

  • http://book-bot.com gilltots

    good call steve, when i think of hugely successful money making endeavors, the first thing that comes to mind is the friggin’ post office.

    i’m sure twitter will be all over this like a toolbag on an astronaut.

  • omg

    you should take a page from the twitter playbook and limit your brain pukes about twitter and friendfeed to 140 characters. (129)

  • chris

    Maybe it’s just me, but I still didn’t see how that relates to $$.

  • http://scripting.com/ Dave Winer

    In other words, Twitter should buy FriendFeed.

  • Ryan


  • http://www.virtualgoodz.com/ simon

    guys come on if twitter wants to make money it just needs to start sticking some fucking advertising all over it’s pages see?

  • Jesse

    Sorry, but I *really* don’t get the jiujitsu reference. I train in JJ and use Twitter, so not really sure where that analogy stems from. Is Twitter in a proverbial triangle choke or something?

  • Steve Gillmor

    As in using your opponent’s force against them, Jesse.

  • meanguy

    That’s Aikido not Jujutsu and certainly not Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

    Your ninja-like skill in mixing broken metaphors into these poorly-reasoned, rambling essays is noted however.

  • kings

    twitter will never make money… just a web2.0 good project with no future….

  • Michael

    Actually, Steve’s use of jujitsu is very appropriate. As I’m sure you know, MeanGuy, Aikido and Jujutsu (and even Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) are all derivations of the same family of Japanese martial arts (sometimes categorized as grappling). In both Aikido and Jujustsu (and also Judo), using the energy of your opponent against himself is a central theme, hence the meaning of Aikido (the way of harmonizing energy), Jujustsu (the way of yielding) and Judo (the way of softness).

    I thought Steve’s article was well written and insightful.

  • http://blog.mail.com/leemarg:cybergal.com/2008/11/25/a-whale-of-an-opportunity/ Business News Research » A Whale of an Opportunity


  • http://scobleizer.com Robert Scoble

    Dave Winer: Twitter can’t afford to buy FriendFeed. FriendFeed’s value is in its superstar team. Remember of the 13 people who work there, one ran the Gmail team. One ran the Google Talk team. Another ran the Google Maps team. And yet another was the designer for Google Maps, Calendar, Reader, Mail, and others. This is a superstar team that will not be taken off the street for less than hundreds of millions of dollars.

  • http://robblatt.com Rob Blatt

    I see how this makes Twitter better for YOU but not better for Twitter.

    Twitter has done exceptionally well against the clones and other messaging systems. FriendFeed, the company you think they should buy is working with just under 700k uniques for 10/08, while Twitter is approaching 4 million.

    you’re starting to sound like a broken record about Twitter.

    • http://www.jobstaxi.com Yasser

      Very true, it’s the simplicity that’s makes it so great. Good point!

      Oh btw
      Check out the new look JobsTAXI at http://www.jobstaxi.com
      New Jobs. HUGE Inc. Starbucks. Facebook. Puma North America Inc. Ignition Entertaiment.

  • http://rorowe.blogspot.com Robert Rowe

    The post office analogy wasn’t that bad, actually. It’s been around for ages, and EVERYBODY uses it. Of course, it doesn’t answer the financial part of it.
    As for Twitter buying up other companies, or integrating more features, NO. They’re best at simplicity. The network speaks for itself.

  • Matt

    Wonder how much traffic this is getting from Twitter right now.

  • http://www.insideview.ie Bernie Goldbach

    If you’re counting referrers, I dropped in from Friendfeed.

  • http://smallpictures.co.uk/words Dean Whitbread

    .. and I just followed Bernie, after reading Rob Blatt on Twitter. Why this false paradigm of superiority? I might read different journalists writing much the same article in several different newspapers, if I’m interested – they will all have a slightly different take and that’s how I build up a picture. I don’t *want* them all to be the same.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravina_Island_Bridge Dave Winer

    Scoble, I guess I’ll just keep using FriendFeed then and admire them for their enormous star power. :-)

  • http://friendfeed.com/rolfschewe Rolf Schewe

    I would like for FriendFeed to be able to import my contacts/follow list. The imaginary friends feature is nice but too much work to manually create a link to each person I follow on Twitter.

    If you ask me I would like to be able to plug the Twitter stream right into FF and be able to track all the services I have plugged into FF. Jumping back and forth between Twitter and FF can get annoying. I want my node to be in one place.

    It will be interesting to see where Twitter goes from here after there move of bringing Rael Dornfest on board. We seem to be having a race between Twitter opening up and the eventuality of FF offering it’s own Twitter-like services built in.

    The competition ultimately benefits the user. So good for us.

    • http://life.magitam.org.uk Farhan Rehman

      I reckon it’s an open contest until someone starts to allow you to easily manipulate your social graph, independently from your messaging medium.. once you’ve organised your social graph, properly, then you’ll probably not want to use any service, that doesn’t let you just import, or export back into it..
      in terms of revenue, the values got to come from something other than straight forward advertising – that model’s been done to death, and now we need something way more targetted and relevant, to draw any real utility, and value to the users.

      • http://friendfeed.com/rolfschewe Rolf Schewe

        I don’t think these services have much choice but to become more and more open. If they don’t do it someone else will.

        As far as social graphs are concerned, I would say people will use these services more if they have everything organized the way they want it.

        Too much energy is expended in tweaking, organizing and troubleshooting instead of just using them. At that point people can focus on their content and not the underlying framework so much.

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  • http://www.conceptcurry.com/ Abhishek

    I think more than just ads Twitter has a lot more to generate revenue from. Twitter exactly knows what it’s people like. they should be offering this data to Adwords via API’s and so that Adwords (or anyone who can pay a good amount) can serve highly relevant ads.

  • http://allantyoung.com Allan

    Very substantive strategic analysis. What are the arguments, if any, for Twitter to stay closed?

  • daniel h

    This post makes some interesting comments regarding Twitter’s replacement of email as a communication method, but I think strays a bit in leaping to the “post office” analogy. And the line “Executives can manage by starting fires and watching to see who puts them out” is just crazy. That’s not a strategy or management method, that’s arson.

  • http://boottech.wordpress.com/ Matthew

    Though this idea doesn’t quite find the revenue, it is definitely a necessary step for Twitter. You said it best with “Twitter can use its market muscle to stay ahead of attempts to clone it from below or above.” Twitter is going to see pressure soon enough and it needs to have more weight to stay above water.

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